The Mid-Week Beat: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement

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Dr.-Martin-Luther-King-Jr-005With Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up this Monday, this week is a chance for us to remember this great man and the incredible struggle that he helped spearhead: the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

And, since this is the Mid-Week Beat, it’s also important to remember what a key role music played for those involved in the struggle. When one thinks of the music of the civil rights era, we largely think of so-called “freedom songs”: African-American gospel hymns like “Go Down Moses” or “We Shall Not Be Moved,” that had deep roots in the African-American churches and socially concious folk songs sung by artists like Julius Lester, Odetta and Pete Seeger. The freedom songs were collaborative in nature and they served as a tool to bring people together in the struggle and to gain strength from one another.

Many younger African Americans involved in the movement, however, sought to separate themselves from the old church tradition and wanted music that was more revolutionary in spirit. Music that could be cranked at parties and was more receptive than participatory. Therefore, it was the soul and r&b that was being produced in Detroit by Motown or in Memphis by Stax, that spoke to this, more militant, generation.

One song that became important was Otis Redding‘s “Respect.” Redding penned the tune but it was Aretha Franklin who would make it a hit and while the lyrics appear to be referencing a romantic relationship, they could easily hold a larger, social meaning. The same goes with other Motown tunes like Martha and the Vandellas “Heatwave” and “Nowhere to Run.” The driving beat of these pop hits demanded attention and was symbolic of a generation that wasn’t content to simply pray for equality, but rather demand the respect they were deserved. And, certainly, the music would become much more militant and socially concious as the decade moved into the late 60s and early 70s.

So, today, in honor of Dr. King and all that he accomplished, we want to feature some events coming up this week that pay tribute to the music that played such an important role during those turbulent times.

Friday, January 17 I Geoff Kaufman & Charlie King with Karen BrandowNew London, Connecticut 

Friday Night Folk at All Souls presents songs of freedom and struggle as they celebrate the memory of the great Martin Luther King Jr.

For the past twenty-eight years, Geoff Kaufman has been leading audiences to find truth, humor, and beauty in folk music. Whether singing sailor songs with his quartet, Forebitter; or environmental songs on board the Sloop Clearwater in the Hudson River; or in solo performances at coffeehouses throughout the Northeast United States and festivals in Europe, Geoff has entertained and touched audiences near and far.

Charlie King and Karen Brandow are musical storytellers and political satirists. Their repertoire covers a century and a half and four continents.  They perform with the sweet and precise harmony of life partners. They sing and write passionately about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.

Sunday, January 19 I Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration with the Brotherhood ChoraleEvanston, Illinois

The Music Institute of Chicago honors the extraordinary legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. at its ninth annual celebration of the legendary civic leader, featuring the renowned Brotherhood Chorale of the Apostolic Church of God. The 180-member male choral group, led by conductor Brian C. Rice, will again perform an electrifying program of repertoire offering traditional and contemporary gospel and jazz arrangements.

The nationally recognized Brotherhood Chorale was founded in Chicago in 1969 with less than 30 members. Under the guidance of its current and visionary director, Brian Rice, the Brotherhood Chorale has built an impressive repertoire and grown to approximately 180 members. In addition to performing every fourth Sunday for service, the choir sings outside the church and has been featured at the South Shore Cultural Center and the Chicago Civic Orchestra, among others.

Sunday, January 19 I Robert Gordon – Reading and Book SigningBrooklyn, New York

Come to the Wythe Hotel Screening Room for an evening with award-winning writer, Robert Gordon, who will be discussing his latest book, Respect Yourself–Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (Bloomsbury), about which the New York Times exclaimed,”Gordon’s deep knowledge of Memphis, give the book a significance that extends beyond a single recording studio. Robert Gordon knows the place, and he’ll take you there.”

The book tells a story of the Civil Rights Movement and the rise of Black Power through the lens of southern soul music and the legendary label Stax Records. Gordon will also read from his other books including It Came From Memphis and Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters.

Video clips, music, readings and conversation will be followed by an audience Q&A. This event is free and open to the public.

Some historical information courtesy of Voice of America and Pearson School‘s websites.